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What does a Psychiatrist do?

To understand the job of a psychiatrist, we first need to get a fair idea of who a psychiatrist is in general. A psychiatric doctor is like any other physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and mental health conditions. Their job is to assess and treat the mental and also physical repercussions of the psychological troubles of the patient.

In this article, we will learn all about psychiatrists and why we would need to consult a psychiatrist.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: What’s the difference?

People often do not understand the difference between psychologist and psychiatrist. There are vital differences in their education and approach towards providing psychiatric help for depression.

Education - Let’s find out about their education and training.

Psychologists have a doctoral degree in the area of psychology which is the study of mind and human behavior. The difference between psychologist and psychiatrist is that the psychologist does not have a medical degree like a psychiatrist that allows them to prescribe medication and treatments other than therapy.

A psychologist can have a PhD in philosophy or a degree in counseling psychology. They typically do 1 to 2 years of internship before commencing their practice.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors graduating from medical school and have completed years of medical internship in the assessment and treatment of mental health diseases.

Approach - The approach of treatment is also different between the two professions. While the psychologist would look more closely at the mood and behavioral patterns of the patient like eating, sleeping, and public activities to get to the cause of the mental condition, the psychiatrists are more likely to work towards excluding any physical illnesses that might be causing the disorders. They are also highly likely to prescribe medications once they rightly diagnose mental illness.

While choosing between a psychologist or psychiatrist for depression, anxiety or any other mental illness remember the following difference between psychology and psychiatry:

  1. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists are trained to conduct psychological tests like IQ tests or personality tests.
  2. Because of medical training, psychiatrists can prescribe medication but psychologists cannot. This is the most crucial difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
  3. In certain cases, if psychologists have a degree in psychopharmacology, then they are authorized to prescribe medications. But this differs from a case-to-case basis, so when making a choice between a psychologist or psychiatrist for depression, you’ll have to consider whether you are looking at a medication regime to help with your mental illness.

What conditions do Psychiatrists treat?

Patients who exhibit symptoms of mental health disorders that are affecting their quality of life and relationships should pay a visit to a consultant psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are equipped to diagnose and treat a range of mental health conditions such as:

  1. Schizophrenia
  2. Bipolar disorder
  3. Mood or anxiety disorders
  4. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  5. Autism
  6. Borderline personality disorder
  7. Depression
  8. Dissociative disorders
  9. Eating disorders
  10. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  11. Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD

Post-diagnosis, the psychiatrist lets the patient and their family know the causes of the disease with proper insights. Usually, when patients need psychiatric help for depression or other mental health conditions the underlying causes can be:

  1. Biological: Hormonal disturbances, nutritional and lifestyle choices, inherited condition from family members and relatives, illnesses or chronic conditions.
  2. Psychological: Excessive stress or pressure, Unresolved childhood trauma
  3. Social: Personal relationship or work issues, economic or financial problems, substance abuse issues

Why would I need to see a Psychiatrist?

Mental health has always been a stigma in society. Many of us often think about visiting a psychiatrist but don’t have the exact knowledge on how to go about it.

The fear of social ostracization and consequences on relationships may also prevent us from getting help. However, putting off going to a psychiatrist can be detrimental as many mental health disorders may need early diagnosis and intervention to manage effectively.

A psychiatrist can help you understand the underlying diagnosis behind mental health symptoms and chart out the right treatment plan for you.

When to see a psychiatrist?

How to recognize the signs that you need psychiatric help? Here are some scenarios that may trigger the need of an appointment with a psychiatrist.

  1. Prolonged stress and anxiety

Be it a job interview, a personal relationship or family problems, stress and anxiety can originate due to any of these. Stress and anxiety, if not treated and diagnosed properly, it can lead to social isolation, depression, and various other problems.

With the help of a psychiatrist, patients can better manage stress and anxiety by finding the source or cause of your problems, as well as the correct ways to overcome them.

  1. Prolonged depression

People often confuse depression with general sadness. Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness often characterized depression. People cannot just snap out of depression and they need proper diagnosis and treatment.

If you or a loved one are stuck in constantly negative thought patterns that you find it hard to break out of, seek the help of a psychiatrist.

  1. Severe phobias

Psychiatric help for phobias is required when it makes the patient unable to carry out daily
tasks due to phobia. There are patients who suffer from the phobia of eating or
crowds or even socializing. In such cases, the doctors can help the patients
get to the root of the problem and find a solution.

  1. Unhealthy habits and addictions

Addiction is one of the main causes of mental illness. Alcohol, smoking or substance abuse can alter your brain chemistry leading to changes in the chemical makeup of the brain that finally causes mental illnesses.

When a person indulges in alcohol and drugs for a long period of time, they experience certain illusionary realities that make them indifferent to the happenings in the actual life. With the help of a psychiatrist doctor addiction and substance abuse problems can be warded off.

  1. Loss or the Death of a loved one

Most mental illnesses, especially in young people, can start with the death of close family members or friends. Even though it is a part of everyone’s life, it has been seen that people predisposed to mental illness often seem to alienate themselves and struggle to deal with the realities of the loss of a loved one. With the help of a psychiatrist, the patient can work towards getting over the feelings of loss.

What does a Psychiatric evaluation mean?

A psychiatric evaluation test designed to assess the mental health and condition of the patient. This evaluation generally looks at the patient's thinking, assessment,and cognitive capabilities.

The psychiatrist will also note the mood, behavior, and daily activities of the patient. Diagnosing a mental health problem is not as easy as various subtleties involved in the process. The doctor needs to perform a series of evaluations to carefully pinpoint the exact condition of the affected individual.

What does a psychiatrist do for depression or mental health diagnosis?

For a mental health diagnosis, a psychiatrist usually observes your symptoms and case history to come up with probable diagnosis. Post the preliminary observations, the psychiatrist may refer you to a clinical psychologist for follow up tests.

A psychologist may prescribe different types of psychiatric tests such as:

  1. Psychological personality test
  2. Projective test
  3. Neuropsychological test
  4. Achievement and aptitude test
  5. Direct observation test

What do I do before my first Psychiatrist appointment?

The first psychiatrist appointment can be overwhelming and intimidating for the patient.To better prepare and family, here are some of the points to keep in mind:

  1. Fix an appointment

Now that you know for sure you want to visit a psychiatrist, call the respective clinic and book an appointment date before visiting.

Finding the right doctor that can help address your exact problems and symptoms can be tough. Most patients may need to visit several Psychiatric doctors to finally find the right onesuited to their needs.

Here are the things you should ask about on the call:

  1. The psychiatrist’s qualifications and the fees charged
  2. If the clinic has admission rights to any healthcare facility
  3. Which documents need to be brought
  4. Whether or not you need to bring any family member with you for the first appointment
  5. If there is a situation of changing psychiatrists, then whether or not a ‘transfer care letter’ is required

  1. Journal your symptoms

If you’re wondering about how to talk to a psychiatrist and initiate a conversation, it helps to have a journal of what you want to say. Mental issues are complex and for the patient to talk to a stranger about their personal problems may sound daunting.

To make the process simple, the patient should jot their symptoms as and when they come. Here are some of the issues that the patient can journal:

  1. The symptoms and the exact timing of their occurrence
  2. Whether there are any environmental factors that trigger the symptoms
  3. Any mental stresses that may be causing the symptoms
  4. Any kind of physical illness that can also be a cause of the occurrence of the symptoms

  1. Prepare your medical history

Mental health issues are very complicated and might arise from a number of factors. In many cases, the patient themselves may be unaware of the underlying causes that are leading to disease symptoms.

To rightly diagnose the disorder and help the patient with the best medications and treatment plan, the psychiatrist needs to have a detailed medical history of the patient.

This means the patient should have all his past prescriptions of both mental and physical ailments ready along with the list of medications, herbal and vitamin supplements they have been taking.

  1. Do your research

There are many questions that might come to mind during and before the first appointment with a psychiatrist. Such questions include:

  1. What will my psychiatrist ask me?
  2. How to talk to a psychiatrist?
  3. Do I need a psychiatrist?
  4. How can a psychiatrist help me?

It is very important to find the answers to all these questions before scheduling the first appointment. You can find various interesting articles on the internet that can help you with your research and subsequently with the entire treatment process.

  1. Prepare your questions

Before showing up at a psychiatrist appointment there are various questions that you may have in your mind. During the first appointment, it can be difficult to come up with questions impromptu for the psychiatrist as the session might get intimidating and personal.

To ensure that your queries are addressed, jot down all the questions that you want to ask your psychiatrist before the visit. Some of the questions may include:

  1. What type of mental illness might I have?
  2. Why can't I get over mental illness on my own?
  3. How do you treat my type of mental illness?
  4. Will any talk therapy help?
  5. Are there medications that might help?
  6. How long will treatment take?
  7. What can I do to help myself?
  8. How do I calm myself when the symptoms get severe?

What should I expect at my first appointment?

Every psychiatrist may have their own unique approach towards patients and hence it’s important to check whether you click with them personally.

At your first appointment, take your time to build a relationship with the psychiatrist and see if you are comfortable with sharing with them. You may have to visit more than one psychiatrist to find one that clicks for you.

  1. Be prepared for several personal questions from your doctor
  2. You might feel an upsurge of different emotions
  3. Both you and your psychiatrist will work towards creating a long-term plan for you
  4. You might be asked to take medications
  5. Your first psychiatrist might not be the right one for you

Getting a Diagnosis and Treatment plan

Psychiatrist doctors are medical practitioners and hence they are authorized to order or perform a full set of laboratory and psychological tests. These tests, combined with discussions with patients about their symptoms and issues, help provide a detailed understanding of a patient's physical and mental state.

Their medical background and clinical training make them qualified to determine the complicated relationship between mental and other physical illnesses.

They can also draw the path of similarity and relationships with genetics and family history. This helps them evaluate medical and psychological data, to make the right diagnosis and hence, come up with treatment plans.

Based on the diagnosis the psychiatrist can prescribe the following types of treatments:

  1. Medications: There are several classes of medications that are administered to the patient who seeks psychiatric help for depression. The prescriptions are obviously different for every patient and it depends on their type and stage of mental illness. Here are some of the common ones:

  1. Antidepressants – These are essentially prescribed in cases of depression, panic disorder, PTSD, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD, borderline personality disorder, and eating disorders.

  1. Antipsychotic medications – These medications are for the patients who face episodes of psychosis. These are used to treat psychotic symptoms (delusions and hallucinations), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.

  1. Sedatives and anxiolytics – These types of medicines are used to treat anxiety and insomnia.

  1. Hypnotics – For the people suffering from sleep disorders, hypnotics help to induce better sleep and treat insomnia.

  1. Mood stabilizers – People suffering from bipolar disorder often face very sudden shifts in their mood that can confuse them and lead to several involuntary actions. Mood stabilizers are prescribed to such patients who have frequent manic and depressive episodes. Sometimes these medications are also prescribed along with antidepressants to treat extremely low episodes.

  1. Stimulants – These are administered often by child psychiatrists for the cases related to ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

  1. Psychotherapy: For improving the mental well-being of the patient, psychotherapy may be advised. During this therapy process, the patient can learn about their condition, mood, behaviors and what makes them act in the way they do. By getting these insights, the patients are better suited to understand their recovery process and hence develop better stress management skills.

  1. Brain stimulation: These are only performed when medicines and psychotherapy have not worked with the patients. These treatments include electroconvulsive therapy, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, deep brain stimulation and vagus nerve stimulation. It is important for the patient and their family to understand the risks of these treatment procedures before going ahead with them.

  1. Substance abuse treatment: Problems with substance abuse often co occur along with mental illnesses. Substance abuse and alcohol consumption can lead to the slowing down of treatment for the mental illness and interfere with the medications. if the patient themselves cannot stop the problem, then the psychiatrist can mediate and help solve the issues.

  1. Hospital and residential treatment programs: Sometimes very serious mental illnesses require the patients to go to a hospital or enroll themselves as residential treatment programs. This is only advised when the patient is found acting in a very volatile way and if the psychiatrist thinks that he can cause harm to himself or to the people around him. This step is only taken when the patient is not in control of their own actions anymore.

Should I bring a parent or loved one?

Whether or not the patient should bring a parent or a loved one completely depends on their discretion. They can bring someone with them and let them wait outside the door during the session with the psychiatrist. Conversely, they can also ask them to sit with them at the session.

It is also understandable if the patient does not want to bring anyone and chooses to do this alone given the sensitive nature of the consultation. It is advised to have someone along just for comfort and not feeling overwhelmed.

Is it confidential?

Anything the patient shares with the psychiatrist is always confidential and protected under patient doctor privilege. They might need to share personal medical information with other healthcare professionals who may be involved in the care of the patient.

In certain cases, the psychiatrist may also need to speak to a family member but in this case consent of, the patient will be taken. However, the psychiatrist is also bound by law to speak up if the patient talks about harming themselves or others.

What’s the prognosis for mental illness?

To cope with mental illness when diagnosed, the patient needs to bring about certain lifestyle changes in order to live a full and happy life. The following lifestyle changes are essential to leading a more functional life when suffering from mental

  1. Stick to the treatment plan and medications prescribed by the psychiatrist
  2. Do not make important decisions when the symptoms of the illness are severe
  3. Quit smoking or consuming alcohol
  4. Take up new hobbies or restart old ones
  5. Stay active, exercise and meditate
  6. Eat nutritional food and stay away from junk
  7. Learn stress management skills to cope with pressure

How to seek help for mental health?

Mental health is as critical as your physical health. Seeking psychiatric help is important, if you want to lead a functional life. If you’re feeling mentally distressed and need to see a psychiatrist, then you will have to talk to your family doctor for a referral. They will be able to guide you to the best Mental Health Rehab or mental health facility near you.

If you have a loved one who needs psychiatric help, here are some pointers on persuading them to get professional help:

  1. Let your loved one know that you want to have a vital conversation with them. This will help them focus their attention and help them take the situation seriously.
  2. Avoid talking during a family gathering or when you’re fighting. You have to pick the proper time and place.
  3. Try not to get defensive, and be prepared for emotional outbursts
  4. Inform them about Residential Treatment Centers and Rehab Centers and how they can help.
  5. Ensure that you provide them with positive affirmations that don’t make them feel isolated through the process.

Cadabams is India’s leading Mental Health Rehab for mental illnesses. Visit our residential treatment facility for an appointment with experienced psychiatrists.

 How can families help?

Families influence patient health in a lot of ways and can help identify the history of a patient's problems, and pave the ground for success by eradicating potential future obstacles to treating several psychiatric conditions like ADHD,
schizophrenia, etc.

If you know someone reluctant to visit a mental health professional due to poor relationship satisfaction, interpersonal conflicts, etc. then paying a visit to the psychiatrist as a family member or loved one is your best bet. 

You can do so in the absence of the patient and discuss one-to-one about the patient’s functioning at home allowing the psychiatrist to better understand the situation this is called a proxy consultation.

Your face-to-face meetings can further allow the psychiatrist to make an accurate diagnosis and plan a treatment strategy for the patient. It will also encourage a healthy conversation between the patient and the health care provider building a strong relationship between the two.

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symptoms for Psychiatry

doctors | Psychiatry

Dr B. R. Madhukar


Medical Director & Consultant Psychiatrist

Dr. Raja Mahabaleshwar Hiremani

Raja Mahabaleshwar Hiremani

Consultant Psychiatrist

Dr Arun Kumar



Dr. Priya Raghavan

Priya Raghavan

Consultant Psychiatrist

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